Steve Donahue may have the best team in college basketball that doesn't get a top-10 seed.
The Big Red have compiled one of the best seasons in team history after finishing up their season with just four losses and collecting 27 wins—and counting.
They have a huge, eight-player senior class—all of them with a lot of experience playing in important games.
This is the third-straight year that the Big Red have gone dancing, but it is the first that anyone believes that they have a shot of winning a game. In fact, ESPN Insider says they are the second most likely nonranked mid-major to advance to the second round. No. 1 is Murray State, a team that posted 30 wins.
Cornell has come so far in the past season because of camaraderie. The Big Red played 12 of their 17 nonconference games on the road, losing just two. Those losses were to No. 1-ranked Kansas and No. 3-ranked Syracuse.
On the road, they won all four of their Legends Classic games. They also won a pair over Davidson and St. John's at the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival. Other good road wins included Alabama, La Salle, UMass, and Vermont. Their only bad loss of the season came to Penn on the road during the Ivy Season.
In what may have been the most thrilling, yet disappointing game of the season, Cornell was on the road at No. 1—and then-undefeated—Kansas. Cornell nearly created the upset of the century after leading for nearly the whole game.
After gaining the lead for the final time with less than 50 seconds remaining, the Big Red couldn't stop the ferocity of Sherron Collins and the rest of the Kansas team, as the Big Red faltered in the final seconds.
So why has Cornell gotten so far, and why will it keep them going farther? One reason is Big Red's shooting.
They have an unconscious ability to make shots, and they lead the nation in three-point shooting—the second Ivy team to have that honor. (Columbia was the other.) In their recent conference-clinching win against Brown, the Big Red came up with 20 three-pointers in 30 attempts. Seniors Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale lead the team's offense—both were First Team All-Ivy players.
Wittman is lights out. He rarely has an off night, and he is a constant threat. Dale is the senior guard with amazing court presence. He can pass, score, and read a defense as well as any player ever to wear a Cornell uniform.
And of course, no one can forget Jeff Foote. The lanky senior who wasn't recruited for any Division I school has now proved himself to be one of the best big men in Ivy history. A First Team All-Ivy selection, he has become a force under the hoop, as he was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.
Senior Jon Jacques, who has sat patiently on the bench for the first three years of his career, has been given a chance to play—and he has taken advantage. He was recently the high scorer with 20 points against Brown—and he had the same feat in the Big Red's big win at MSG over St. John's.
Cornell also has some young guns. Sophomore Chris Wroblewski was a lights-out shooter, averaging seven points a game on one of the best scoring teams in the country. Freshman Eric Peck was also a factor in Cornell's offense, scoring 99 points on the season.
So this is, in essence, the climax of this dynasty. Yes, the Big Red have been dancing for the past two years, but they lost both times.
This team is the real deal. This team is a close team that will put everything on the line. These players feel they have a shot to put themselves on the map.
Steve Donahue has created this team, and everything—all the games, the practices, the long plane rides—is leading up to this tournament.
Gotta love March Madness.
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